Is the End Nigh? Technology Doesn't Mean the End of Photography

In his trademark understated introduction, Ted Forbes acknowledges that technology is a charged conversation for photographers. Photographers are something of a Luddite-like bunch. On the whole, we seem to have a preference for the technology we learned the craft on. Be that a medium format film camera, a digital DSLR and an early version of Photoshop Elements or a more modern mirrorless, we seem to stand up against the tide of change like it's in our DNA. What are we going to do about the rise of machine learning?

Forbes' latest video, Technology is Changing Photography, takes deep a look at recent advances in software, proclaiming them a boon to the creative aspects of photography.

To be clear, Forbes doesn't see the current sky replacement and de-aging algorithms as the real endgame of A.I. He's not afraid that computer illustrations will replace the collection of light by human photographers. Forbes believes that A.I. will ultimately impact photography in a positive way. 

Forbes suggests that machine learning software will reduce the repetitive tasks that photographers have to engage in. This will in turn provide photographers with more time to spend on the creative aspects of their art. For example, photographers already take advantage of automated import functions when they download their images from their memory cards, but what if your software learned your basic initial edits and applied them to your images? You'd have a slightly advanced starting point for image editing, wouldn't you? You'd have a bit more time to edit images in a more creative direction. You'd have a bit more time to get back out shooting instead of sitting in front of your computer.

The second half of the video gets into the specific example of Adobe Premiere's scene detection and automatic re-framing functions. This type of software, a product of deep learning, can reduce the amount of time a photographer spends on these repetitive tasks.

Forbes winds up his conversation with a more philosophical comment that most things in life are predictable. The sun sets, the sun rises. The temperature of light changes throughout the day and throughout the year in a reliably predictable way. Finding a way to capture this in a creative way is what makes photography an art form. Any process that gives photographers more time to engage in the creative aspects of the art must be a benefit, no?

It's not that I disagree with Forbes, but we've heard these arguments before. Assembly line modernization would give the working man more time at home with his family. The internet will make a previously unthinkable amount of information available to anyone with a few key strokes. Machine learning will free up valuable time for lawyers, accountants, and mid-level managers. In reality, we saw blue-collar jobs disappear through the 50s. We've seen attention spans drop directly in relation to this new wealth of information. And, an entire tier of lower-level lawyers and accountants are only a year or two away from losing their place as professionals. 

What do you think? How will A.I. or machine learning affect the working photographer? Will it affect different photographic genres in an unequal way?

Lead image of MANIAC chess computer from Los Alamos National Laboratory, public domain.

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2 Comments

Timothy Roper's picture

Photography killed illustration for the most part, putting artists out of work and killing a once-vibrant art form. So no tears shed if something else does the same to photography. It's the way it goes.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

That's a valid point, but, as a photographer, I'd rather find a way to keep doing what I do (for money).